11-19-2020 History

May 18, 1994

Remembering your great-grandmother Matilda Kaucher

This is in the form of a letter to a young lady whose picture I saw in the Record a few weeks ago. At the same time, I think of it as a challenge to all young people to take every opportunity to learn about your ancestors. They help to identify you. As you read you’ll see why I write to Betsy Kaucher, who was crowned, along with Mike Barbee, as Coloma High School’s Winterfest Royalty in March. Hope you all enjoy someone else’s mail occasionally.

Dear Betsy,

Your picture in the Record set me thinking of a dear lady, your great-grandmother, I believe, who died before you were born. You may not remember me at all, although our paths did cross when we both participated in the sesquicentennial drama “Shingle Diggin’s Came First.” You were just a small girl at the time and took a part as one of the pioneer children who were the earliest settlers of Single Diggin’s. The thought came to me, at that time, how proud your great-grandmother would have been of you. This time I thought about my four great-grandmothers, none of whom I had the privilege of knowing. And I wished that I had learned something more about them. Why didn’t I quiz some of the older people around who might have had some stories. I prize one clipping I happened to find of Ann Riggin Stark’s obituary filled with praises for her thoughtfulness of neighbors and service to friends, and I’ve always kept it in mind that I’d like to deserve that glowing a tribute when I die. (Obituaries in former days usually gave more than facts as they do today.)

Anyway, I decided that perhaps you would enjoy hearing about my association with Mrs. Ernest Kaucher, Matilda, your great-grandmother. She lived with her husband where I think you still live, about a half-mile from Coloma city limits on Red Arrow Highway. Theirs was the first farm you came to at that time. Verda and S.L. McDaniels built one closer-in later. There were no stores or businesses. I walked weekly, carrying music books, from the schoolhouse on Leedy Street to her home for piano lessons. I wasn’t the most enthusiastic student at first, because my friends took lessons from Marjorie Furman. Well, she was most everybody’s piano teacher in those days. But my mother wanted me to go to Matilda Kaucher, because they were friends.

Matilda came here from Germany after World War I and married Ernest, who was already living on that farm. There was a residue of prejudice toward those who had been during the war years in Germany. I don’t remember how Mom, Mabel, and Matilda first met but I know Mom was a self-appointed committee of one to help her find a place in the community, inviting and escorting her to Self-Culture Club meetings and school and church.

When she found that Mrs. Kaucher had been a piano teacher in Germany, she saw another way to help her become a part of the community; hence, my foray into the world of piano. To say that I became a great musician after several years of lessons with this good teacher would be stretching the truth considerably, but there were more important things I learned … first, music appreciation. The great masters were her friends and she would often play as I listened. Second, the character and wisdom which she imparted influenced my life far beyond those few years.

One Christmas, she helped make a piano bench cover for my mom. I kept it at her house so it could be a real surprise.

One example of her thoughtful advice stands out in my mind, as it happened years later after my marriage and World War II. Since a college German course (partly inspired by her), I’d had a German pen pal named Lydor (can’t remember the last name) but we had lost touch years before. During that first year after World War II, I received a letter from her, forwarded from Blackburn College where I’d attended. My German being rusty, I took the letter to Mrs. Kaucher for translation help. The letter was a desperate plea for food essentials, soap, and wearing apparel. She lived in East Germany and sounded suspiciously supportive of Hitler. At least she had a doctorate in eugenics, which is the study of improving the race by careful parental selection. So I asked Mrs. Kaucher, “Do you think she deserves our help?”

“Dorothy,” she said, “when people are hurting and hungry we do not need to ask if they are deserving. It is not our responsibility to judge, only to help. Could you live with yourself if you refused?”

The last time I saw her was in a Buchanan area nursing home. She did not make me feel guilty for neglecting her for many years. She simply said, “Dorothy, you have brought much happiness to my day. Thanks for coming.” I am grateful, Betsy, that I took piano-plus lessons from your great-grandmother. Best wishes,

Dorothy Cannell

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